Jessie Dowling has worked on Maine livestock farms since 2007, most recently the creamery which she founded, Fuzzy Udder. Last August, she competed in the Mongol Derby, an over 1,000-kilometer race across Mongolia. Bayarsaihan Ochiroo photo, courtesy of Jessie Dowling

Framed by two maps — one of the Mongolian steppe, another of Argentina — Jessie Dowling recounts the 10 days it took her to ride over 1,000 kilometers (more than 620 miles) across Mongolia as a participant in the Mongol Derby.

“Every day I’d wake up and be like, ‘All I have to do today is ride,’ ” she said. ” ‘This is the best day of my life.’ And I get to do that again — also the best day of my life.

“If there’s any way I can find a way to ride horses all day, every day, I’m gonna sign up for that.”

Dowling will talk about her adventure during a presentation at 3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 13, at Bowdoinham Public Library.

Of the 44 competitors in this year’s Mongol Derby, a horse race across Mongolia that roughly traces Genghis Khan’s 13th-century postal route, only 25 finished, with Dowling ranking a formidable 13th. Dowling, who trained for the race for a year (her dad thought it would take two) says one of the keys to her success was staying hydrated. That and the iron stomach she has acquired from spending the past 17 years as a dairy farmer.

Dowling didn’t grow up racing horses. After pursuing a master’s degree in food policy in the U.K. and returning to the U.S. to do environmental work, she found herself feeling “that if you really wanted to advocate for the small farm, you really need to be a farmer.”


That’s when Dowling moved to Maine, where she had lived during her high school years.

She remembers thinking, “I’m going to do this.” In 2007, Dowling went to work at Appleton Creamery, where she spent the next five years learning to care for sheep and goats and make cheese. In 2011, after an employee of the farm took her own life, Dowling adopted 30 goats and two livestock dogs into her care.

One of Dowling’s horses on her property in Whitefield — an Arabian named Jelly Bean. Luna Soley / The Times Record

“Farmer mental health and farmer suicide is something that people should talk about more,” said Dowling, who raised $12,000 for Trail to Zero, a program BraveHearts Therapeutic Riding started to help put a stop to veteran suicide, while preparing for the derby. She described the experience at Appleton as “a catalyst for change in my life.”

Enter Fuzzy Udder, Dowling’s creamery and cheese shop.

“I dug my heels in and I made it work,” she said. “We built this farm out of nothing.”

Now over a decade old, Fuzzy Udder is for sale. Despite taking home first-place awards for blue cheeses, chevre and feta at the Maine Cheese Awards, Dowling wants to transition to working as a full-time equestrian, including offering therapeutic riding lessons and retreats at her new property, located just down the road from Fuzzy Udder in Whitefield.


“It was one of the reasons why I was drawn toward Mongolia,” Dowling said. “Because here are people who are taking care of sheep and goats just like I am but in such a different way.”

Her talk at the library will cover the 10 days she spent riding across the Mongolian steppe, changing horses 29 times to complete a grueling race, Dowling often spent the night with local Mongolians, whom she says welcomed her into their homes. Throughout it all, she cared for her horses, abiding by the strict rule of the race that riders do not overtax the animals over a certain number of heart beats per minute.

What’s next? Dowling said she’s trying to raise $100,000 for BraveHearts by February 2025, when she will compete in the Gaucho Derby in Argentina. In Mongolia, Dowling wore sunglasses and SPF Chapstick to protect herself from riding all day in harsh sun. Argentina will be different, she said — windier and colder. She plans on packing ski goggles and more camping gear and is already looking forward to it.

“I never met a horse I don’t like and that still holds true,” Dowling said.

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